Article: Tattvārtha-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


A Śvetāmbara monk and a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which symbolises his role and authority as teacher. It holds a scripture in protective cloth. He sits on a low plaform while pupils sit on the floor. Religious beliefs were originally passed on orally

Monk and pupils
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Understanding the meaning of each and every word of the aphorisms is not an easy task and thus the Tattvārtha-sūtra has sparked considerable activity in the form of commentaries. Both Digambara and Śvetāmbara scholar-monks have contributed to this body of work, ranging from simple explanations to, more often, very learned commentaries.

The earliest commentary is called Bhāṣya. According to the Śvetāmbaras, Umāsvātī himself created it, so they call this Bhāṣya svopajña, that is Written by [the author of the text] Himself.

The Digambaras dispute this and consider the Bhāṣya to be much later.

Among the prominent commentaries the Digambaras have written are:

  • the Sarvārthasiddhi, written by Pūjyapāda in the 6th century
  • Akalaṅka's Rājavārttika, composed in the 8th century
  • Vidyānanda's 9th-century Ślokavārtika.

Influential Śvetāmbara commentaries include:

Originally in Gujarati, this last work has been translated into English and is extremely valuable in understanding the principles of Jainism.

Translations into Western languages

Nineteenth-century German scholar Hermann Jacobi was a leading Indology scholar. His 1879 establishing of Jainism as a religion distinct from Buddhism and his translations and critical studies of major Jain texts laid the foundations for modern Jain studi

Hermann Jacobi
Image by unknown © unknown

The first translation of the Tattvārtha-sūtra into a Western language was a German edition published in 1906 by Hermann Jacobi, one of the pioneering Western scholars in the field of Jain studies.

There are other significant texts in the Jain faith but several descriptions of Jain philosophy found in various European manuals are based on the Tattvārtha-sūtra because it gives the essence of Jain belief and presents it in a sūtra style. An example is Frauwallner’s 1956 presentation of Jain philosophy in his German-language publication, Geschichte der indischen PhilosophieHistory of Indian Philosophy.

Influence of the Tattvārtha-sūtra

The aphorisms of the Tattvārtha-sūtra are meant to be memorised and the text's short length means that it can be carried around easily. Indeed, the Tattvārtha-sūtra frequently figures in the short collections of prayers and fundamental religious principles which many Jains carry with them. These are similar to Roman Catholic catechisms. Originally handwritten manuscripts, these collections are now available in print.

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